27 November 2006

And the Rockets Keep Falling

This weekend, I spoke with some family members on Friday who had been together for Thanksgiving. Most common questions: “Things staying quiet over there?” and “Are you okay?”
Well, it’s a complex question, as usual. So, for this post I will only focus on one aspect of ‘the situation’, although this aspect could take chapters and chapters to explain.
In the South, very near the border with Gaza, a town called Sderot and its surrounding communities has been hit with rockets from northern Gaza every day. An Israeli woman was killed early last week, and in the same barrage, a young man who was one of Defense Minister Peretz’s bodyguards was severely wounded. They had to amputate both of his legs. This last week, another man was severely wounded. He later died from his wounds, just days before his son’s Bar Mitzvah, unless I am mistaken. The Defense Minister is from Sderot; his house is there. Still, rockets keep falling. Last week, in a twenty-four hour period, at least ten of these huge rockets fell on the town.
Every day, several times a day, the sirens sound and the residents hurry to bomb shelters or wherever they can find safety.
The most emotional stories I’ve heard are those of the kids. Many of them stay home from school because they’re too afraid to go outside. The ones who do go to school are so scared and stressed out they can’t even focus. The teachers say that they have to spend most of their time trying to get the kids to focus and calm down, and in the remaining time they try to teach them something and progress with the curriculum. When I was a kid, we did earthquake drills in which we all got under our desks and held on so that we wouldn’t fall out or something. These kids all run to the bomb shelters when the sirens sound.
Here is an excerpt from a Jerusalem Post article detailing a few aspects of the situation:
“We arrive at the first [nursery school] a little after 8:30 a.m. All the children are already sitting in their seats, thinking that at this very time Wednesday a few rockets fell so close to this place, and killed Yaakov Yaakobov (the man previously mentioned), who was buried Wednesday afternoon…[And] we speak with the teachers.
One of them, Debbie, details how they had just managed to go to their security room with 15 children aged 3-5, in 15 seconds. She describes how they walk quickly, in a way that has already become routine, stay quiet and wait to hear the explosion of the rocket. The children, she says, have already gotten used to this somehow.
Debbie mentions that the children have begun to take yoga classes, trying to ease the unnatural reality of not being able to play outside in the nursery school playground. No one is taking chances these days in Sderot.
When they go home, Debbie says she reminds the children not to go to any playground and to run home as fast as they can.
The children’s parents do not have private cars to pick up their kids, and we can see them trotting alongside their youngsters to get them home as fast as possible. It’s surreal to see the empty playground, built recently to improve the quality of life in Sderot. Debbie remarks that the last time the children were allowed in the playground was a month ago…
When we arrive at the next nursery school, Ofra the teacher is talking about snails, which turn up in the winter, and asks the children, ‘Why does the snail have a shell?’ The children answer in chorus: ‘So it can be protected from the Kassams’.”
Just imagine for a moment that one of your children or grandchildren goes to one of these schools. Imagine the utter terror and numbing fear these little people experience every day of their lives – the children at school, hearing sirens half a dozen times a day (these are not drills; they are actually attacks) and walking quickly to the shelters; the parents waiting and wondering if their children will be alive when they go to pick them up after school. Three year olds are showing symptoms of PSTD, and only half of them have been treated. Six year olds, who are the oldest to have never lived without the Kassams (the barrages started six years ago), travel outside of Sderot and notice immediately things six year olds should never have to think about – the security room isn’t big enough for the number of children assigned to it, the school isn’t properly protected, etc, etc. Still the rockets keep falling.
This weekend, a ceasefire was negotiated between Israel and the Palestinian militant groups, including Hamas and Fatah. Hamas officials promised that, if the IDF would withdraw from Northern Gaza, then the rocket attacks against Israel, including Sderot, would end. Saturday night, the IDF pulled out of Northern Gaza. The ceasefire went into effect at 6 a.m. Not thirty minutes later, the warning sirens went off in Sderot – rockets had been fired from Northern Gaza and were headed straight for the town. The ‘ceasefire’, which was a sham in the first place, in my humble opinion, was over before it began. It was a sham because the only purpose of Hamas’ existence, very clearly and unabashedly stated in their charter, which you can Google and read at your leisure, is the destruction of Israel. Why would such a group honestly and with good intention agree to a ceasefire with the very people they exist to exterminate? This is not rocket science, people.
To be fair to Hamas (ha!), the rockets were not fired by Hamas people, although God knows they have everything to do with the problem and nothing to do with the solution. Israel was the only partner in this two-entity deal who kept their end of the bargain flawlessly. Also note that those who are firing rockets are firing weapons intended to kill innocent people – children in preschools, women walking on the street, men doing their jobs. The idea is to kill as many people as possible. When the IDF sent men into Gaza, they did it with the sole intent of stopping these indiscriminant attacks on civilians, these acts of terrorism. In other words, they did it in self-defense. For, what country in the world lets these things happen to their children without acting out in self-defense? And who in their right mind would condemn such a country for trying to protect their children?
And yet the ‘ceasefire’ was broken, and the rockets keep falling.
This is all coming in the context of the post-Lebanon War mess. The war exposed a lot of weaknesses and corrupt behavior in the Israeli government, things that wouldn’t have made much of a difference without a war, but you know… Now 80% of Israelis think that the Defense Minister (yes, the one who lives in Sderot) should step down or be fired if he won’t. The President is being investigated on rape charges (or maybe he was acquitted, can’t remember), and the Prime Minister on something having to do with tax fraud.
And the country keeps on going, as it always has (unless the bus drivers strike or there’s a sudden gas shortage). Ulpan keeps on going, thank God, and the world keeps on spinning.

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26 November 2006

A good full day

Well, I've just spent the entire afternoon walking around Jerusalem taking some neat pictures for you all to see. Phew! I'm beat.
The pics should be up soon, either tomorrow or Tuesday. In the meantime, feel free to check back in the next 24 hours for a new post overviewing a bit of the current political situation here (as much as I know of it, which isn't much).
Ulpan was great today. I didn't know any of the words they taught us today, which means....I learned new words!!! Yay!!
Previously, there has been maybe two or three 'new' words a week, which I didn't know. Now we are starting to learn words and grammatical constructions that are new for me, and this, God willing, may be the beginning of the end of my 'please go faster and teach me something new because I am bored!!!' problem in ulpan. It had better be; I'm paying for it, right?
Welp, see ya later!

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18 November 2006

Feelin' Better!

Boy, someone must have been talking to the big guy upstairs for me because I feel sooo much better!! Maybe it was the ten hours of sleep two nights in a row....
So, don't worry. I'll be up and ready to go tomorrow and ready to keep you up to date on my life without having to blow my nose after typing each word.
Shavua tov is what we say in Israel on Saturday night and Sunday morning after the Sabbath. It means "A good week".
So, Shavua Tov!

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17 November 2006

That's so sick!

So, I was planning on posting something new today, Friday being the only day where I can sit and think and write, that isn't Shabbat. Unfortunately, the universe seems to have had different plans.
I picked something up.
My head feels like it is about to explode. The pressure is centered around my eyes - sinus stuff - and my nose is running like a fugitive with hounds on his trail. My eyes are burning and watering, and clear liquid keeps dripping down the back of my throat, making me cough, which makes my eyes water more. Then I sneeze, and it begins all over again.
Sleeping is a whole other deal. When I woke up this morning, my nose was stuffed solid with godknowswhat.
So, keep me in your thoughts and prayers. Hopefully, since I have some time to rest and sleep more this weekend, I'll be better for class on Sunday.

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15 November 2006

Life on the Other Side - In Pictures!

As promised, some pictures of my first weeks in Ha'aretz ('the Land'):

This is, fortunately or unfortunately, the only physical proof (despite the possibility of using photoshop to create a semblance of reality) of my being in Israel. It was taken on my first weekend in the country at the archaeological sight of the Roman/Herodian aqueduct in Caesarea, on the Northern Israeli coast. It was built to bring water to the city of Caesarea, which was built as an administrative center by King Herod in honor of...you guessed it, Caesar (specifically Caesar Augustus, or, more formally Divi Augusti Octavianus, 'the divine Augustus, formerly known as Octavian', or something like that). My friend Nancy, who is also my landlady, took the picture as I stood on top of the aqueduct.

Here is another picture of the aqueduct, from another angle. Neat, huh? The Romans were masters of architecture and of bringing water to remote reaches of the Empire in order to facilitate a sort of globalization of the ancient world. Judea was no exception, especially because of the construction projects of Herod the Great, who is famous for being the greatest builder and developer of the Roman period, among other things.

After visiting the aqueduct, we went to the real site of ancient Caesarea. According to Josephus Flavius (the most prominent Jewish-Roman historian of the ancient world), King Herod 'built a harbor where there was none'. He literally constructed a place for ships to come in and out in the middle of the coastline, where no natural harbor existed in that area. He also built a quintessential Roman-style city, complete with an amphitheater, a hippodrome for gladiatorial games and horse races, a temple to 'Rome and Augustus', a subterranean sewer system 'which automatically flushed itself with the sea tides', and an administrative center from which the Romans would rule Judea after Herod's death. This is the site where Paul was questioned by Agrippa and Festus and requested to be tried before the emperor (as he was a Roman citizen and deserved such just treatment not accorded to non-Roman citizens) and where the first Jewish revolt against Rome (66-73 CE) began after conflicts between the Jewish and non-Jewish residents of the city erupted into violent riots. After the 20,000 Jewish residents of the city were slaughtered by the Greek residents (number probably inflated by Josephus), the city was completely Roman/Greek, i.e. non-Jewish in a Jewish land.
Here is a picture of the amphitheater, reconstucted and restored for modern usage:

Below is a picture of the hippodrome (think horse racing scene from Ben Hur). The seats are on the left in the picture, and they faced the Mediterranean directly opposite. If you look in the middle of the track, you can see the center structure, around which they raced. The picture is taken from the starting gates.

Here also are some pictures of my room and of the view from the backyard of the house in Har Gilo, where I live.

Notice the barbed wire fence. Har Gilo, technically on the Arab side of the 1967 Green Line, is a settlement which has been annexed by Israel. The town in the forefront of the first pic is Bethlehem, and Hevron (which is unclear in the picture but is a straight-shot south from B'hem) is past it. I will post more about Har Gilo later.
Well, have to get up early for ulpan tomorrow, so that's all for tonight. Later!

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10 November 2006

One More Example

By the way, if you need one more quick and clear example of tension in J'lem...just look at the picture in the next post down (I didn't take it - still don't have access to my laptop).
Notice the Western Wall (archaically called the Wailing Wall), the holiest Jewish site in the world. Hundreds of Jews pray here every day.
Next let your eyes wander up to the big gold-plated dome above the wall. This is the Muslim Dome of the Rock, built atop the Jews' temple mount in the 600s CE. Also atop the temple mount, to the right of the Dome, although not in the picture, is the al-Aksa mosque.
When visiting the Wall at certain times of the day, one can hear the Jews praying in Hebrew, as they have done for centuries, as the Muslim call to prayer, hauntingly beautiful, echoes out from the mosque atop the temple mount.
It doesn't get much closer than that.

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Jerusalem of Tension

There's a popular song about the City of Jerusalem called "Yerushalayim Shel Zahav" (Jerusalem of Gold).
The chorus goes: "Jerusalem of gold and of bronze and of light...etc etc etc".
You might think, at first glance, that these things are the same in the world of poetic and artistic expression. I.e. that saying 'jerusalem of gold' is the same as saying 'jerusalem of bronze', but really these things are not the same. How can something be made of gold, widely valued as the most precious metal in the world, and of bronze, a mixed alloy made essentially of copper and tin ('the tin content not exceeding 11%,', according to dictionary.com), at the same time?
It is illogical.
Either the holy city of Jerusalem is made of pure gold, bright and beautiful, sought after for centuries by princes and paupers alike, or it is made of a base metallic mixture which could include any number of alloys, so long as copper is the main ingredient.
Now, allow me to explain the point.
I have now been here, as an Israeli citizen and a semi-resident of Jerusalem for less than two weeks (11 days, to be exact), and, although I do not claim to be, in any way shape or form, an expert on these things, certain things are clear enough that one does not have to be a rocket scientist to perceive and understand.
The song holds a certain truth, essential for beginning to understand the atmosphere, the culture and the politics of this city. Jerusalem is a city of gold. It is beautiful, shiny and precious. Its white stone literally sparkles in the sun. But, just like gold, this external beauty is deceiving.
Jerusalem is not made only of gold. It has a baser nature, often lost to tourists and golddiggers stuck in the beauty of its romantic facade.
Jerusalem is made of bronze, as well. It has crime and pollution and destructively violent religious fanaticism. It has weirdos and rapists and trash everywhere (large-scale recycling has yet to make its way to the region).
From what I have seen, Jerusalem is, above all, a city of tension. It has been called a pressure-cooker. This is an understatement.
From where does the tension come? Every. direction. imaginable.
The most common relationship talked about is that of the Israelis and Palestinians or the Jews and the Arabs. To be sure, this tension exists, but it is much more complicated that that.
I have seen the tension between the religious Jews and the secular Jews, between the natural-born Israelis and the immigrants (even those who have been in the country for twenty years), between the old and the young, between men and women, between the left and the right and the moderate, and much, much more. There is tension between different sects of religious groups, Jewish and Christian (and Muslim I am sure, though I have not seen it first-hand yet). Perhaps you have been glancing at the news and have read or heard something about the gay-pride parade/rally scheduled to take place in Jerusalem at this very moment (Friday midday) which has been protested vehemently (and sometimes violently) by the haredi orthodox in Israel. This is another stark example of the tension, and this is not as simple as a conflict between the religious and the secular.
According to surveys about which I've read in the Jerusalem Post, there are many people who feel such as I do: for the sake of democracy, freedom of expression, and freedom of and from religion, the parade/rally must be allowed to take place. However, for the sake of peace and respect for the religious sensibilites of others (even if the belief is not shared), the parade does not have to take place in Jerusalem. It has always taken place in Tel Aviv. Let it take place in Tel Aviv, the cultural capital of Israel. Moreover, even if the religious have a legitimate argument and protest point, engaging in violent protest (burning cars and throwing rocks at fellow Jews) is counterproductive and gives them, without any help from the media, the stigma that they detest and decry.
There are hundreds more examples I could cite. I will be posting more on this in the future. I wanted to give you a picture of the atmosphere I have experienced so far. Please comment if you have something to say or wish to respond.

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05 November 2006

Pictures Coming Soon

Alright, peeps. Unfortunately, although I remembered to bring my laptop, underwear and 'waiter's corkscrew', I forgot to bring the outlet adaptor for my laptop. My parents, the lovely gracious people that they are, have dropped it in the mail to me, and it should arrive sometime this week. This means that, until I get it, I can't use my laptop (the batt. dies really quick because it's a little old) for very long and have not been able to post pictures. They will be coming soon....
I have some of the house where I am living, some of Jerusalem (mainly the old city) and Caesarea, an ancient Roman city built by King Herod of which I have more to say than you have patience to read.
But have some patience for the pictures. They're worth the wait.

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So, I went to ulpan here for the first time today. Ulpan, if you just made it here, is an intensive language immersion class designed to teach students to speak Hebrew and integrate into the culture/country as quickly as possible.
It was originally instituted as a program for new immigrants in the 40s, especially after 1948. The first ulpan established was Ulpan Etzion (pronounced eht-tsee-yohn), in Jerusalem. This is the ulpan that I will be attending in January, and baruch hashem (thank god) that, aside from the students' notorious partying habits, I have heard nothing but excellent things about the school.
But, I'm getting ahead of myself.
My temporary ulpan is called Ulpan Moresh (or Morasha, I've not been able to get a definitive answer on this) and is situated basically in the center of Jerusalem.
Every morning, because Har Gilo is a settlement and a twenty to ninety minute drive to Jerusalem depending on the traffic, I take a bus to the city at 7am. This morning was my first morning riding this bus, so naturally, especially being new to the country, I didn't have much idea of the route or where to get off. About an hour into the trip, I recognized where we were, saw that it would soon be close to where I needed to disembark (or 'go down', as it's said in Hebrew), so I pushed the stop button....about a minute too late. To my great dismay, the bus didn't stop anywhere near from where I needed to go but instead went all the way to the central station without stopping once. This left me with about ten minutes to get to my class, which is about 2 or 3 miles from the station.
So...I started to run. I ran two blocks before I realized that I would never make it in time (and what kind of a putz walks in late on the first day...not me), even if I could run fast. To make a boring story short, I hopped on a bus going in the general direction....and again got off one stop too late.
Eventually, I did make it on time (baruch hashem) and found a great seat up front.
So...since this is a post about ulpan and not me trying to figure out the Jerusalem city bus system, let me tell you a little about the class.
There were about 25 to 30 students in the class, all ages and genders included (er...both genders, I mean). The woman sitting next to me, named Alice was a nice lady, a 50-some-year old new immigrant from Pennsylvania. She knew no Hebrew whatsoever. This was a little frustrating when we were assigned partner/group work, but hopefully it will change in the future.
The teachers (there are two - one for morning and one for afternoon, and they switch each day) are awesome. Very Israeli. Very in-your-face. Spicy like a jalapeno and sweet like brown sugar at the same time. They are much like drill sargents, if you can imagine that in a language class. The class is designed to help you speak quickly. It isn't really geared towards grammatical minutiae, which is how I have studied ancient Hebrew and Hebrew in general up to this point.
I am a little bored (surprise) and wish we could go faster. But there were people today who were asking her to slow down. Her response? "You need to go faster, you know. This is an intensive Hebrew course. It will pick up". No sympathy. I have some for them, but I want to go faster and faster.
So, we will see how it progresses. I have promised to give it two weeks. If it's still too slow, I will speak with the teacher. Too bad they don't have an honors program or something....
In the end I am so thankful and excited to finally be learning Hebrew. It's really a blessing; that's the most important thing right now.

01 November 2006


By the way, if any of you want to send me something, here is my address until mid-January:

Mobile Post Zephon/Yehudah 7/3
Har Gilo 90907

I also have a vonage number where I am staying (it rings in Israel but dials through America, so it doesn't count as an international call): 971-223-5172
Remember, Israel is ten hours ahead of PST.

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I'm here!

I'm here, everyone, safe and sound.
I flew into Tel Aviv on Sunday afternoon and have been doing all sorts of things since. I am starting to get settled, living with a friend of mine in a J'lem (Jerusalem) suburb called Har Gilo.
Yesterday, I went to the post office to register for my health insurance, which is almost basically free (at least for new immigrants, I think) - what a weird place to register for insurance....ah well.
You must know, there's really no rhyme or reason to most things here.
I also went to get my bank account, which I have to have to get my dough (in shekels) every month from the government. A very polite and helpful man named Moris told me that I have to have my teudat zehut (national I.D. card, everyone has to have one and carry it at all times) before I can get my bank account. This may or may not be true, according to whom you talk with at the bank, but he was nice so I will believe him. To get your teudat zehut, you have to go to the misrad hapnim (ministry of interior), but it was closed yesterday at noon (we were there at 1pm). So I came back early this morning to get my ID card and the man told me I have to bring my birth certificate, which wasn't on the list of things I needed (someone's fault, but you wil never figure out who). I called my friend Nancy and she brought my B.C to me, but it was already too late by th etime she was coming in to the city. So the misrad hapnim is closed right now until 2:30pm, and I cannot get my ID card until then.
So that was fun....NOT! It's an ongoing process, too. I really hope to god that I can get it today.
So, because I had some time to kill and I want to start learning Hebrew NOW (the lack of ability to communicate is enough to frustrate me into insanity), I went and checked out an ulpan (Hebrew school for new immigrants) not far from the city center called Ulpan Morasha. I am starting on Sunday at 8:30. Woohoo! We'll see how that goes. When I got there, one of the teachers started semi-interrogating me, trying to figure out how much Hebrew I know. Apparently, although I can ask all sorts of questions and get around alright, my Hebrew sucks. So I am starting in the first level. Hopefully I will start learning quickly and not be bored.
So now, I am just waiting until the misrad hapnim opens. Maybe I will get a falafel or something. There is no lack of AMAZING food here. Baruch hashem! Thank god!!
Signing off.

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